The Week That Was in Baseball: February 23-March 1, 2009
Fehr and Loathing at Spring Training So Long, Oakland A's of Fremont
Will the Real Andy Phillips Please Stand Up?
Jim Bowden's Skimmed Milk Money

Mis-State of the Union
At least Bud Selig gets it now. Baseball union chief Don Fehr apparently does not. In beginning his annual tour of spring training camps to talk to his constituents, Fehr addressed the media and complained that the general public is unfairly branding major leaguers as suspicious until proven positive—touting that even in 2003, when the anonymous testing turned up 104 steroids users, it was only slightly over 5% of all major leaguers tested. Actually, the result was closer to 10%, it’s mostly players calling for the anonymous cheaters to be made public and the fans, after the Alex Rodriguez bombshell, are understandably skeptical of whether any successful major leaguer these days is on the up and up. How the players can let this guy continue to be Their Man as he claims the sky is clear of steroids is beyond us.

Habla se English?
Alex Rodriguez has hired the same lawyer who represented Sammy Sosa at the infamous 2005 Congressional testimony on steroids in baseball. Perhaps it won’t be long before A-Rod loses his ability to speak English as well.

What Were You Thinking?
Perhaps the first bit of advice A-Rod’s new lawyer should give him—regardless of which language is spoken—is when you have a cousin who’s considered poison by your side, don’t have him pick you up from the first exhibition game in full view of everyone. Which is exactly what Rodriguez did when notorious cousin Yuri Sucrat gave him a ride away from the ballpark. The New York Yankees had their own advice to Rodriguez: Keep Sucrat the hell away from the team.

The Bonds Report
In the trial that will never start (never mind when it’ll ever end), Judge Susan Illston grudgingly delayed Barry Bonds’ perjury trial back as much as six months at the request of Federal prosecutors, who are appealing Illston’s decision to bar crucial evidence connecting Bonds and former trainer Greg Anderson. Illston decided against the admissibility of three positive steroid tests and doping calendars provided by Anderson to Bonds because Anderson insisted that he would not testify, even if it meant returning to the slammer for contempt. Without the evidence, the Feds must feel their case against Bonds is weak, all in spite of damning testimony from other witnesses and a fourth positive steroid test—this one swiped away from MLB’s anonymous testing of 2003.

The delay could eliminate any hope for Bonds playing baseball in 2009—though that was highly unlikely even if he was free and clear.

Fradulent Phillips Screw
While infielder Andy Phillips was vying for a roster spot on the Pittsburgh Pirates, another person claiming to be him was vying for a good time with a porn star. Apparently, the impostor succeeded in his quest. And until we hear otherwise, the porn star, Gina Rodriguez—whose stage name is Demi Delia, although “G-Rod” might sell more videos—truly believes that the person she had a New York dalliance with in late December was the real Phillips. MLB’s investigative unit checked out the story and came to the conclusion that she was had and that Phillips, a devoted Christian who’s married with children and was nowhere near New York at that time, could not have possibly have been that guy.

Where There's a Willis, There's a Wayward Pitch
When Detroit Tiger camp began, coaches and players were marveling over how well Dontrelle Willis was throwing the ball—suggesting that the Willis of old (22-10, 2.63 ERA in 2005) had shown up instead of the Willis of late (9.38 ERA, 35 walks in 24 innings in 2008). Then he faced live competition and cold reality returned: In his first outing of the spring, Willis pitched one-plus inning and gave up two runs on four hits, a walk and a hit batsman to Toronto. And this is just exhibition baseball; wait until the real games begin—that is, if Willis gets the chance.

BC's Crash Course
The Boston Red Sox began its spring training schedule by defeating Boston College, 7-1. That signaled an advance for BC, which last year lost to the Red Sox, 24-0. The Red Sox-Eagles matchup has become something of a tradition, as has the result; the Red Sox have won all 17 games against BC since the ‘rivalry’ became a yearly fixture in 1993. Of note in this year’s battle was the appearance of BC pitcher Dane Clemens—no relation to a certain former Red Sox pitcher.

Bret the Negotiator
Some ex-major leaguers become coaches, others become scouts—and many, many others seem to end up as pundits on the MLB Network. Then there’s Bret Saberhagen, the former pitcher who became a sensation in 1985 for the Kansas City Royals and ultimately won 167 games over a 16-year career. So what’s Saberhagen’s thing now? He’s a player agent. The 45-year old recently joined West Coast Sports Management, based in Pasadena, California, where he’s more of a liaison to MLB clubs; as of yet, he has no clients of his own. But it makes sense to see this as a trend, with a couple generations of major leaguers having been largely exposed to the process of contract negotiations through their agents. And remember: Scott Boras was once a minor league player.

Good Move in Goodyear
Classy touch by the Cleveland Indians to trot out Hall of Fame pitching legend Bob Feller, about as spry as a 90-year old can be, to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Goodyear Ballpark, the new Arizona spring training site shared by the Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wounded of the Week
It never seems to fail how winter doesn’t provide protection for major leaguers trying to stay healthy for the spring. There were the usual numerous instances this past week of players being held out to recover from the aches and pains that the offseason seems to bring. (It’s not past us that players get sore once in camp because of the inactivity of winter, but how fragile can these guys get?) Among those resting up and enjoying a suntan are Vernon Wells, Brandon Webb, Grady Sizemore and, from the “but of course” portion of the list, Kerry Wood and Milton Bradley; more ominously, New York Met ace Johan Santana’s early elbow pains may keep him out for all of spring training—and beyond.

The week’s one significant exit came courtesy of Minnesota pitcher Boof Bonser, who was discovered to have a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder and will need season-ending surgery. The injury infuriated Bonser’s agent Larry Reynolds, who believed the Twins should have acted sooner.

He Said What?
Outgoing Washington general manager Jim Bowden, from his resignation speech: “Unless you are Manny Ramirez, there is no place for distraction in baseball.” Is Bowden hinting that the Nationals are Scott Boras' "mystery team"?

This Week With (or Without) Manny
As of this writing, the Los Angeles Dodgers have still not signed Manny Ramirez, but they’re close. Close, that is, to strangling Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras. And vice versa. The Dodgers publicly offered Ramirez another two-year, $45 million contract this past week, which was answered with yet another rejection from Boras. Dodger owner Frank McCourt, showing an impatience that could be as calculated as it was reactionary, responded to the rejection with a public e-mail stating the team was “negotiating against ourselves” and wouldn’t pursue any more negotiations until Boras came up with other “serious offers” from other teams, a reference to Boras’ familiar “mystery-team” tactic that the Dodgers apparently are unwilling to get suckered into.

If McCourt was attempting to be embraced by the hearts and minds of Dodger Nation, then Boras’ own e-mail rebuttal—claiming the Dodgers wanted Ramirez to defer a majority of his wages through 2013—might have thrown a wedge into it. All in all, it does appear on the surface that the two parties at least are agreeing to the years and the money; the sticking point appears to be over when Ramirez would be paid.

And as for those mystery teams? None have publicly surfaced. The San Francisco Giants remained interested, but only on their terms—terms Boras and Ramirez would likely reject as well.

There is No "A" in Fremont
The dream of landing the Oakland A’s will apparently end as nothing more than that for the residents of Fremont, a Bay Area suburb located halfway between Oakland and San Jose, after they were finally told “thanks, but no thanks” from A’s owner Lou Wolff. Not that Wolff didn’t give Fremont the ol’ college try; he claimed to have spent $80 million, almost a third of which was “unrecoverable,” toward an effort to move the team to a new ballpark there. He all but gave up on one site, located on the western, industrial side of town, because some business property owners put up resistance to the idea, and was chased away from another prime site near residential neighborhoods on the east side when numerous citizens loudly played the NIMBY card. With Fremont’s passing, all eyes turn toward San Jose, which many believe has been the best option for the A’s all along—so long as the San Francisco Giants are willing to allow the team into a city they claim is within their so-called “territorial rights.” (Sacramento is also considered a possibility, especially if it loses the NBA’s Kings.)

Bowden Bows Out
Under scrutiny from the media, the FBI and his employers at the Washington Nationals, Jim Bowden resigned from his post as general manager of the Nats on Sunday. His exit comes due to reports that he skimmed bonus money from prospects who signed with the team. The Nationals earlier in the week fired former pitcher Jose Rijo, a special assistant to Bowden also accused of skimming. Reading from a statement, Bowden said he was stepping down because he had become a “distraction” to the team, but also claimed he did nothing to hurt the Nationals or MLB. Which is not a denial.

Sloppy Firsts
During the offseason, one of the chief objectives for the Florida Marlins—besides continuing to keep their payroll insanely low—was to change up their roster in an attempt to play better defensive baseball, something of a problem for a team that’s constantly been among the worst at fielding. So what happened on the very first at-bat of the Marlins’ exhibition season? First baseman Gaby Sanchez dropped a throw from pitcher Anibal Sanchez for an error, the first of four for the Marlins in a 5-5 tie with the St. Louis Cardinals. The fielding atrocities left Marlin president Larry Beinfest anything but amused, going out of his way after the game to blast the Marlins and their “unacceptable” play. With all sarcasm intended, Beinfest did congratulate the Marlins for chalking up more runs than errors.

A Wii Bit Better
There have been numerous stories during spring training of players who’ve shown up saying they’ve kept their baseball instincts sharp in the offseason playing Wii. The Cincinnati Reds have taken it one step further. At their spring camp in Florida, they’ve set up a machine that’s something between a Wii and a pitching machine, one in which a batter looks out at a video screen of a pitcher ready to throw—and, out of a hole in the screen, an actual baseball shoots out. Cincinnati players seem to swear by the accuracy and complexity of the machine, provided by ProBatter Sports; in fact, the Reds intend to have a similar apparatus in Cincinnati for the regular season.

No News is Bad News
This Great Game collects much of its information for the Comebacker via relatively trusted newspaper sources. So it saddens us to hear of the crippling state of U.S. newspapers that this past week led to the demise of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. The shutting down of the News is, likely and unfortunately, the first in a string of many shutdowns to come. It was reported this week that the San Francisco Chronicle, whose reporters broke the BALCO scandal, may also soon go under without immediate and serious cash. The same goes for not one but both major papers in Seattle. Other newspapers are trying to survive under bankruptcy protection. To think that, someday, we may be forced to extract the daily news solely from the Blogosphere is a bit unsettling.

Rest in Peace—And With Credit
When John Kennedy, the first African-American to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, died in 1998, he was buried in his hometown of Jacksonville with an unmarked grave. That didn’t seem right to a number of people, including historian Wes Singletary and Florida state senator Tony Hill, who ganged and began a drive to have a graveside marker acknowledging Kennedy and his achievements. The mission was completed last week with a ceremony attended by, among others, Kennedy’s daughter and the father of Phillie pitcher Brett Myers, who also is from Jacksonville.

Now Playing at TGG
Our 2008 Yearly Reader page is now uploaded along with its accompanying Leaders+Numbers page dissecting the most productive hitters and pitchers of 2008, final standings and the "It Happened In..." installment highlighting the recordbreakers and events of the season that was.

TGG Video Update
Our video page has been updated with a retrospective of Barry Bonds' final game (or so we assume) in San Francisco on September 26, 2007 as filmed by our own Steve Friedman.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.